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Senate Approves ANWR Development; House Mulls Strategy

The Senate last Thursday voted to open up the coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas leasing as part of its $35 billion budget reconciliation package, with the measure surviving several challenges by Democrats. ANWR also advanced in the House last week, but its fate may be iffy as the budget package reaches the floor.

By 51 to 48, the Republican-led Senate rejected an amendment, offered by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), that would have prevented energy development in ANWR. The bill ( S. 1932) as it stands directs the Interior Department to conduct two lease sales on a 2,000-acre portion of the coastal plain of ANWR before Oct. 1, 2010. It assumes that ANWR leasing will produce approximately $2.5 billion in revenues for the federal treasury over a five-year period.

The Senate defeated (51-48) a second Cantwell amendment, which would have put the brakes on ANWR exploration and production if Alaska tried in court to obtain more than 50% of the revenues from ANWR leasing. The amendment was an attempt to "come in the back door and kill ANWR," charged Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The Senate, by 83 to 16, approved an amendment by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) that would bar the exporting of any oil produced in the Arctic refuge. The Senate now must await action by the full House on its budget measure, which is scheduled to take place later this week.

Concerned they don't have enough votes to get their deficit-reduction package passed, House leaders last week said they may need to drop ANWR to attract the votes of a group of moderate Republicans who are opposed to ANWR being included in the bill, according to a report in Congressional Quarterly's Green Sheets. Two dozen House Republicans wrote their leaders this past summer to say they didn't believe it was proper to consider a major issue, such as ANWR, as part of the budget reconciliation process.

House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-MO) "is working to pass the budget reconciliation [bill] with ANWR in it," said Heidi Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Blunt, on Friday. She declined to comment on reports that, given the Senate's favorable vote on ANWR, the House may choose to drop ANWR from its budget package to win over the GOP detractors, and restore it later during conference negotiations.

The budget measure approved by the House Budget Committee last Thursday would open ANWR to oil and gas leasing and give coastal states the ability to opt out of moratoriums on drilling on the federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Both issues could prove to be contentious on the House floor.

By 21 to 16, the committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Nussle (R-IA), voted to send the $53.9 billion House budget package to the floor. The measure assumes that ANWR would produce approximately $2.5 billion in additional federal revenues between 2006-2010, and that expanded OCS and mining activity would result in net savings of $158 million for the government over five years. It also would raise spending for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program by $1 billion in fiscal year 2006.

The initiatives on ANWR, expanded OCS development and LIHEAP were offered by the House Resources Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee for inclusion in the budget reconciliation package.

Nussle last week expressed his concern about ANWR as well, adding that it could be a major hurdle to passage of the budget reconciliation in the House.

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